Horizon Irish Open: Defending champion Lucas Herbert revelling in return to Mount Juliet Estate

How fitting that Lucas Herbert’s return to the Emerald Isle has coincided with a golf game finally showing the green shoots of recovery. It’s timely too given the 26-year-old Australian is keen on burying a quarter-century of unwanted history for defending champions of the Horizon Irish Open this week.

Not since Colin Montgomerie at Druids Glen in 1996-97 has a player successfully defended the DP World Tour title and, until recently, you wouldn’t have given Herbert much hope of reversing that trend.

The Victorian famously kicked on from his three-stroke victory over Swede Rikard Karlberg at Mount Juliet Estate last June with a breakthrough PGA Tour victory at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in October. Since then, though, Herbert has struggled for golf’s rarest commodity: consistency. There have been bright weeks – an impressive T7 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a T13 at the PGA Championship – but he arrived in County Kilkenny this week fresh from an unplanned weekend off at the recent U.S. Open and plenty of topsy-turvy golf in between.

“This year it’s just finding that consistency [that] has been tough,” said Herbert when asked for an assessment of his game. Thankfully, there was hope lingering in the very next sentence.

“I feel I turned a little bit of a corner. The game feels like I have the ability to hit the shots. It’s just putting everything and the structure in place around it to produce a little bit more of that consistency.

“I don’t know how it’s going to go this week and going forward, but it’s always a bit of a work-in-progress. But yeah, I feel like we’ve sort of moved… turned a corner and moved into a bit of the next phase. Been playing bigger events on harder golf courses over there in the U.S. and it’s pretty easy to beat yourself up.”

It never hurts returning to the scene of glories past when you are searching for confidence. Herbert has especially enjoyed regaling some very special practice galleries with tales of key shots pulled off down the stretch on championship Sunday a year ago.

“We just played nine holes and felt like a trip down memory lane for two hours, talking about all the shots, where the pins were, the crowds. My Mum and Dad are here this year, my girlfriend, and I’m explaining what went on last year and I’m sure they don’t really care. They were watching it on TV but it felt cool taking a trip down memory lane.”

Herbert intends to channel those positive vibes this week.

“I feel like even though I might have been playing poorly leading up, there’s still some of the shots that I feel like, oh, just got to hit that shot and you’re not even thinking about how do I do that. You just remember that’s the shot I had to hit last year so you just visualise hitting that. If I can carry that for four days, I think that would be kind of fun.”

Photo by Oisin Keniry/Getty Images

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